Tag Archives: author

Getting to Know You: Judy Penz Sheluk

International Bestselling Author, Judy Penz Sheluk has kindly given us some of her time today. Judy’s debut mystery novel, ‘The Hanged Man’s Noose‘, the first in the ‘Glass Dolphin Mystery’ series, was published in July 2015. The sequel, ‘A Hole In One‘, was released on the 1st of March.

Skeletons in the Attic‘, Judy’s second novel, and the first in her ‘Marketville Mystery’ series, was first published in August 2016 and re-released in December 2017. ‘Past & Present’, the sequel, is scheduled for early 2019.

In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy works as a freelance writer and editor. In addition to all of that, Judy is also a member of a number of crime writing collectives and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Director and Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.

As you can see, Judy is a very busy lady and I’m really grateful that she’s taken the time to chat with us. 

Vic x


Tell us about your books.
I write two amateur sleuth mystery series. The first is the Glass Dolphin Mysteries; the Glass Dolphin is an antiques shop on historic Main Street in the fictional town of Lount’s Landing. The main characters are Arabella Carpenter, owner of the shop, Emily Garland, a journalist, and Levon Larroquette, ex-husband (and occasionally more) to Arabella. Let’s just say they have a complicated relationship. The first book in the series is The Hanged Man’s Noose (which happens to be the name of a pub; Lount’s Landing is named after a real life Canadian politician, Samuel Lount, who was hanged for treason in the nineteenth century). It’s available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook. The sequel, A Hole in One, has just been released in e-book and trade paperback. Audio will follow later this year.


The other series is the Marketville Mysteries. The first book in the series is Skeletons in the Attic, told in first person by Calamity (Callie) Barnstable. Callie inherits a house from her late father on the condition she moves into the house (which she did not know existed) while investigating who murdered her mother thirty years before. It’s available in e-book, trade paperback and audiobook. The sequel, Past & Present, should be released in early 2019.

Both my series are published by Barking Rain Press.


What inspired them?
The premise behind Noose is that a greedy developer comes to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store, thereby threatening the livelihoods of the local indie shops. We see that sort of thing happen all the time. I merely took that premise and said, “What if someone was willing to kill to stop it?”

The premise behind Skeletons came to me when my husband and I were waiting in our lawyer’s office. He was delayed in court and we were there to redo our wills. In fact, opening scenes are directly culled from that experience. Let that be your takeaway: everything that happens to an author may well end up in one of their books.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Life. I keep a notebook in my purse, and I’m also jotting down things I’ve seen or overheard. But I also have this wicked imagination. For example, this past summer, I was golfing and the houses along the perimeter of the course were having their roofs done. And I heard the pop-pop of the pneumatic nailers, and I said to my golf buddies, “You know, someone could get shot and everyone would just think it was the roofer.” They did look at me as though I was a bit odd!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I love Arabella Carpenter, the irascible owner of the Glass Dolphin. I even included her in a cameo role in Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in my Marketville series. Arabella’s motto is “authenticity matters” and she lives by that, even when it comes at a high personal cost. I admire that about her.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Definitely a pantser. I’ve tried plotting but it just doesn’t work for me. That said, I’m planning to write a non-fiction work, and that will have to be outlined in detail. With fiction, I just let the story go where it wants to go.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Absolutely. Reading is the best teacher. I try to read 30+ books a year. Most are mystery or suspense, but I’ll also read mainstream fiction and I enjoy short story collections. I’m a huge fan of a number of authors, most recently Fiona Barton, who I think is absolutely brilliant.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
I always quote Agatha Christie when I’m asked this: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

What can readers expect from your books?
I refer to them as amateur sleuth with an edge. There is the requisite small town, no overt sex, violence or bad language, but there’s also no cats, crafts or cookie recipes. People tell me the plots are more complicated than a typical cozy, and I do have a lot of characters, but they all play a part. They’re not just there for window dressing.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Make time to write every day. You can’t edit a blank page. And write what you’d like to read, not what you think will sell. By the time you’ve written the next great vampire book, the vampire craze will be long over. Start your own craze.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
Of course I like it best when the words flow like maple syrup, but even when they don’t I’m reminded of Erica Jong, who wrote: “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.”

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Always. I’m currently working on the third book of the Glass Dolphin series, and a standalone mystery/suspense. And I have a couple of short story ideas I’m mulling over. And the non-fiction work I’m researching. I try to write every day, even if I only have a few minutes, even if it’s Christmas, New Year’s Day or my birthday. It doesn’t always work out that way!

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
The day I signed my first book contract for The Hanged Man’s Noose. I’d faced the usual rejection from agents and publishers, but I wasn’t giving up. The email came in on July 1, 2014, which happens to be Canada Day. My husband and I popped open a bottle of champagne and danced on our back deck. The book came out July 2015.

Where can we find you?
My website where I write about the writing life, interview other authors, write the occasional book review, and I also have a series called New Release Mondays where I include a brief summary of a new book. Most are mysteries or suspense, but not always, and most of the authors are not well known, but deserve to be better known.

I’m also part of two multi-author blogs: Pens, Paws and Claws and The Stiletto Gang

I’m also on Facebook, and Twitter and Pinterest. 


A Love Letter to The Garsdale Retreat

When my friend Stephanie encouraged me to attend her writing retreat at the Garsdale Retreat, I decided it was a good time to concentrate on my own writing and that this would give me the ideal opportunity – away from distractions and the pressures of every day life. 

As the time grew nearer, I began to get cold feet. I’ve always suffered from homesickness to varying degrees and I was concerned at being away from home for four nights. It must sound silly but it’s the truth. 

My journey there was particularly dramatic but that’s a story for another time. Once I arrived at the retreat – thanks to the help of the wonderful Rebecca and Hamish from the retreat, a resident of Garsdale called Paul and Mr Middleton, a farmer – I was greeted like an old friend, even by the women I’d never met before. 

One of my concerns about the retreat was the menu. It’s a fully catered place with all of the meals being vegetarian with some fish and I am a fussy eater (although I am way better than I used to be). However, Rebecca’s home cooking was a total delight. We were treated to home-baked biscuits and cakes every morning and afternoon. The meals themselves were amazing – the variation and flavours never ceased to amaze me. We had all sorts from soup to pasta, Indonesian stews to salads. I even brought a couple of recipes home! 

Another concern I had was whether I could actually write. One of the first exercises Stephanie asked me to do was highlight the things I was good at, where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there – that was so challenging and I had to ask for advice on what to put as achievements. OnceStephanie reminded me about the awards I’d won, the MA I have and the support I provide others, I was able to see the value in what I do.

Each day was structured perfectly, with two workshops in the morning then in the afternoon independent writing, one-to-one tutorials and the opportunity to drop in for some advice and guidance if required. We came together every evening for a pre-dinner drink and chat in front of the log fire. I tumbled into bed each evening full of delicious food and exhausted from thought-provoking discussions with like-minded people. 

I woke every morning to a beautiful view and enjoyed being able to go for a short walk in the fresh air at least once a day. 

On the day where we had a brief field trip to the train station up the road, Rebecca drove those of us who couldn’t manage the hill – yet another example of what incredible hosts she and Hamish were. When our cars were covered with snow on the morning that we were due to leave, Hamish was out there sweeping the snow away so that we could drive home safely. 

Stephanie was an incredible facilitator and, despite having participants at different stages in their writing, every exercise challenged and encouraged us in equal measure. The amount of resources and stationery were mind-boggling. From the ‘washing line of wisdom’, filled with quotes about writing, to the envelopes we were encouraged to leave messages for one another in, Stephanie had every base covered. 

On our final evening, we were encouraged to create our writing manifestoes. Here’s mine: 

I think it shows how much of an impact the time I spent at the Garsdale Retreat on my writing – and my self-esteem. 

Stephanie encouraged us to take a quote from the washing line of wisdom which resonated with us, then we shared them after dinner on our final evening. She then gave us another one that, to me, seemed hand picked for each of us. As each person read their quotes, I found my eyes filling up. But that was nothing compared with my reaction when I opened my envelope on returning home. I only spent four days with these women but the messages they had left for me filled me with joy and love. 

So, inspired by the retreat – and mainly Rebecca’s baking – I baked a cake while adopting the Agatha Christie method of plotting (allowing the mind to roam while occupying yourself with a completely unrelated task). 

I missed my husband, and wished he was there with me, but I didn’t feel homesick because Garsdale felt like home. 

Garsdale Retreat inspired me in so many ways: it reminded me of the innate kindness of people, the healing power of food and how, even when you don’t believe in yourself, there is always someone who does.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Martyn Taylor

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Martyn Taylor, a member of Elementary Writers, is with us today to talk about how his day job has affected his writing. 

Vic x

For Wild Wolf copy

Are we authors or writers?  No, we are liars.  Our stories did not happen.  Our characters live only in our imaginations.  Even the most meticulous historical author only presents a cartoon because it is impossible to know the entirety of the actuality.

Crime writers deal with liars.  Bad guys do not care they are lying.  Good guys have problems with truth.  Why?  We all lie every day, although accepting consequences ranging from the disapproval of a loved one to being taken to a place of execution and hanged by the neck until we are dead.  Fiction is the art of good lying, which means knowing the motivation of our liars.

Cover1 (1)

I have had two occupations that brought me into contact with chronic liars.  As a portfolio manager in the City I was daily invited to pay more for what was on offer than it was worth.  Because I was dealing for clients I had no personal stake in the transaction and so could buy their bill of goods because – as Danny De Vito put it – it was ‘other people’s money’.  These barrow boys with their red braces and Oxbridge degrees worked in an institution that still has a motto ‘My Word is My Bond’, but – as has been so often shown – these guys never signed a contract they didn’t have five ways from Friday of slithering out from under if things went wrong.  Their motto, as expressed by a stock broker who took me to lunch, was ‘If God didn’t mean them to be sheared he wouldn’t have made them sheep’.  ‘Them’ being those outside the gilded circle, you and me.

These liars do not know they are lying.  The difference between them and someone trying the Nigerian scam online is that the scammers know they are lying.  Presenting these liars in fiction is almost impossible because of the corrosive universality of their lying and the fact that the finance industry is so ‘valuable’ that the liars buy off our gate keepers with pocket change.  We accept their edifice of lies as normality.  They may have problems selling me their Ponzi schemes but, yes, I did have PPI.

As an investigator of motor thefts and accidents I was daily confronted by those stalwarts of crime fiction, unreliable witnesses, people recounting what they believe they witnessed rather than what actually happened.  Four ‘independent’ witnesses will give you at least six plausible versions of events and believe they are telling the truth.

Some, however, lied outright, mostly for simple financial gain.  Knowing them was relatively easy:  they began by saying ‘To tell the truth…’

Others had murkier motivations.  They could not allow themselves to be overtaken by a woman, or possibly have caused loss to someone of a different race, creed or colour.  With them the HL Mencken question was as important as it is in fiction.  ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’  It is insufficient to be convenient or demanded by the plot.  Our antagonists must be as fully motivated as our protagonists.  We expect fiction to illuminate life rather than reflect it.  Everyday lying is as banal, captivating and convincing as flat soda.  Nobody expects life to make sense.  Everyone demands that fiction does.

Which is why we must lie better in our fiction than we do in real life.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Ian Skewis

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

One author who is making waves in the world of crime fiction is Ian Skewis. His novel ‘A Murder of Crows’ has been getting lots of love in the crime community and Ian is with us today to talk about how his day job affects his writing – and his life. 

Vic x

I write every day.

I never used to. I have always written. But only in the past couple of years has it become a necessity.

A necessity, because I am now published, and once you’re on that road, there is no going back. A writer’s profession can be precarious and to not do everything you can to maintain that path would be career suicide. So, when I’m not writing I’m promoting online. When I’m not promoting online I’m reading my work to an audience at a festival or library or community centre. In other words, more promoting. And when I’m not doing that I’m attending other people’s book readings and launches. Networking. It’s endless.

My social life has shrunk drastically as a result and the few times I have something close to a night out are when I’m with other writers. Again, this is courtesy of book launches etc. Finding a balance is difficult.

And then there’s the ‘day job.’

I often feel a bit grumpy about going to work at my day job because I’m always thinking that I could be writing or promoting my own work instead. But, as is always the case, the ‘day job’ does serve several functions. The first and most obvious is that it pays the bills. That’s its main function. But there are several other functions that didn’t become apparent to me until this whole author thing really took off. My day job allows me to use a different part of my brain for solving different kinds of problems. Sometimes, if the writing process has been especially strenuous, I actually look forward to going back to the day job. I simply can’t wait to talk to people who are real, as opposed to the ones who are inside my head. And more often than not, any problems I have with my stories, such as a kink in the timeline perhaps, are resolved subconsciously, in the background, whilst my main brain is actively working at the day job.

Other times, after a 12 hour shift, I’m so tired the next day I can barely write a meaningful paragraph. But sometimes, when I’m in that docile state, I have some amazing ideas and the writing just pours out, because the part of my brain that prevents the free flow of imagination, the part of me that perhaps over analyses, has been put on hold.

So there we have it.

The ‘day job’ has its uses.

But the good news is that I can actually begin to take a wee bit more time away from the day job and spend it on my writing, now that my work is being recognised. And I have to say that if I had a choice I would like to write full time and use my entire brain for that, and my nights could be my nights again. Who knows, I might even strike a balance and get a social life again. Time will tell…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Gill Hoffs

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Regular readers of the blog will recognise today’s writer and worker as Gill Hoffs, Nutella fiend and all-round top woman. Gill’s going to be telling us how her career has influenced her writing. 

Vic x

I’m shit at small talk, and apparently it’s not alright to say to a stranger, “If you have a look at my twitter feed that tends to reflect what I’m about – rude history, strange nature, art, and junk food.  How about yourself?”  So I bear in mind that there are several standard topics to discuss, cultural checkpoints that establish you as ‘alright to be around’ and ‘not a threat’, such as weather, the niceness (or otherwise) of wherever we happen to be, and – at a push – occupation.

Depending on the situation, I lead with one of my two jobs: carer or author, though the latter usually leads to tongue-biting.  I love both and, since I tend to write about people from the past, they’re kinda linked.

I used to work in children’s homes, where I’d spend part of my week living alongside children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.  A key part of the job (as I saw it, anyway) was to find whatever small or large details it took to make a connection with each kid.  Much of this was rooted in the mundane.  Did they prefer Penguins or Rich Teas with their hot drinks?  Movies or soaps?  Cereals or toast?  And to build on our relationship from there.  We built bonds, fragile but precious, from these fragments of personal taste, the human equivalent of “telling details”.

Now I work with older people in a nursing home.  Instead of attempting to set our charges on the path to a happy, healthy, and independent adulthood we’re doing our best to make them comfortable, and bring them joy or, at the very least, a measure of peace and contentment.  Relationships are just as important but can be trickier to navigate, especially when memory issues are involved, but again, we build bonds over tiny details.  Pets or no, custard creams or bourbons, Stones or Beatles, tattoos and hair-dye – there’s always something we can connect through.

This principle, that these tiny yesses and noes, personal preferences, wrinkled noses and dimpled smiles add up to a whole bunch of humanity, lies at the heart of my other work as a writer and researcher.  When I create my shipwreck books, I find that many of the records have been boiled down to numbers and percentages, weights and measures, lists of co-ordinates, cargo and casualties.  My biggest priority is restoring the humanity to the people involved with these tragedies, and for me the easiest way to do so is to flesh out the names attached to these statistics.  What were their nicknames?  What did they love?

As someone who is often led by their belly, one of my favourite examples for this is when Hendrick Jans Kas, a survivor of the William & Mary shipwreck, wrote home to Friesland from America ‘I think I will like living here. Americans eat pork three times a day and beef and that is a bright prospect for me.’  Food as a source of joy?  I suspect we’d get along great.

To find out more about Hendrick and his fellow shipwreck survivors (and the captain and crew who attempted mass murder in the Bahamas), read ‘The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson (Pen & Sword, 2016).  Gill’s first shipwreck book, ‘The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic(Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015), is also available from reputable and disreputable outlets.

Review: ‘I Did It for Us’ by Alison Bruce

Emily tells herself that her best friend Joanne’s new boyfriend is trouble, worrying that he will hurt Joanne – and Joanne’s children. But her friend is in love and can’t see what Emily is worried about so Emily decides to watch and wait. But Emily’s past isn’t as straight-forward as she’s led Joanne to believe – is she as good a friend as she claims to be? 


Although I recently read ‘Cambridge Black‘ by the same author, ‘I Did It for Us‘ is a very different novel – they’re both very good but in different ways. ‘I Did It for Us‘ is a twisty story featuring a questionable narrator. 

Throughout the novel, I was unsure who to root for and second guessed myself until the final chapters. I genuinely didn’t know who to trust – Alison Bruce has created a cast of characters so layered that any of them could genuinely be misleading the reader but at the same time may be completely innocent.

This unsettling thriller tackles a number of subjects which make ‘I Did It for Us‘ a dark, edgy read.

I whipped through ‘I Did It for Us‘ in a couple of days because I was so desperate to see what would happen. I honestly didn’t want to put this novel down. 

Vic x

*City Without Stars Blog Tour* Guest Post and Review

I am really delighted to be involved in the blog tour for ‘City Without Stars’ by Tim Baker. 

Tim’s debut thriller, ‘Fever City‘, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger and the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award. City Without Stars‘ is published this month by Faber & Faber. 

My thanks to Faber & Faber for including me on the tour and to Tim for taking the time to answer my questions. 

Vic x

Photo by Colin Englert

Tell us about City Without Stars‘.
For the residents of Ciudad Real, in Mexico, the situation is desperate. A deadly war between rival cartels is erupting, hundreds of female sweat-shop workers are being murdered, and union activist, Pilar, is about to risk all; taking social justice into her own hands by organizing illegal lightning strikes in protest.

As his police superiors start shutting down his investigation into the serial killings, a newly assigned homicide detective, Fuentes, suspects most of his colleagues are on the payroll of narco kingpin, El Santo, and turns to Pilar for help. Although she will do anything to stop the murders of her fellow workers, Pilar’s going to have to ignore all her instincts if she is to trust Fuentes enough to work with him. When the name of the city’s saintly orphan rescuer, Padre Márcio, keeps resurfacing, Pilar and Fuentes begin to realise the immensity of the forces aligned against them . . .

What inspired it?
So many elements go into the creation of a novel and every one of them is a form of inspiration. From the first day I arrived in Mexico, I knew I wanted to write about the country, but it took over four years for the major themes to emerge and coalesce into a narrative, including the plight of exploited female workers along the border region with the United States and the vast numbers of these young women who were being abducted and murdered. Why were no suspects being apprehended? Why weren’t the women being offered better protection? And why were authorities refusing to consider the situation as an emergency? There was only one force in the region that could exert such malign control: the cartels. Add to that the growing concerns about the dehumanizing dangers of rampant globalization, and suddenly I had a book.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Perhaps surprisingly, most of my ideas come from either dreams or daydreams when I’m in nature and there’s interplay between elements or light. These moments are not so much a blinding flash as half-formed glimpses or impressions and usually take on greater clarity when I’m doing some kind of physical activity: swimming or walking and not consciously thinking about ideas. It’s a long and imprecise journey and you need to have faith.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I never read any of my books after their final edit because I’m already invested in creating new characters and other stories. There’s only so much space available inside my head so I have to keep the decks clear at all times! So my favourite characters, stories and scenes are always the ones that I’m currently writing, because they will be rewritten, edited, re-imagined and perhaps even deleted. Anything that’s in flux and emerging in surprising ways is always exciting.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
It was a great piece of advice from the Canadian author, Mavis Gallant, whom I once interviewed at her home in Paris over a bottle of white Alsatian wine. She told me never to begin a line of dialogue with “Yes” or “No” as it invariably makes redundant everything else that follows, and at the very least robs the sentence of any dramatic tension. Like all great advice, it was simple but effective.

What can readers expect from your books?
I think my novels have a couple of things in common: strong social themes woven around a propulsive, violent story; a powerful sense of place; dark swathes of humour; and an unstinting belief in the endurance of human dignity.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
My own writing journey and the way I write is atypical, so I may not be the best person to offer advice! All I would say is simply to embrace whatever works for you and don’t worry if it’s a little unorthodox. Aspiring writers need tenacity along with talent but they should also be aware that luck plays a strong part in any writer’s career. Luck comes in waves. If something is not working, then don’t become too despondent – put it down, pick up something else, and try it again later on. It worked for me!

What do you like and dislike about writing?
The great thing about writing a novel is that you have this vast canvas upon which to explore ideas, characters and complex concepts such as destiny.  It’s a luxury and a privilege to have that scope for consideration and I never take it for granted. The only thing I dislike about writing is not writing.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I usually work on several projects at once. At the moment I am completing a dystopian thriller, a first-contact novel set in northwestern Australia, and a thriller about the Algerian war.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
It’s exactly the same moment that applies to my life as a reader: leaping into the unknown of a new novel.

Review: ‘City Without Stars
by Tim Baker.

My interest was piqued when I was offered the opportunity to review ‘City Without Stars‘ because I haven’t read many thrillers set in Latin America. I was intrigued to read about the type of crimes that could be an issue in this region. 

Tim Baker’s prose evokes the setting, conjuring the claustrophobic climate beautifully. I read this nuanced story with the action unfolding in my head through a sepia haze. The atmosphere that Baker creates is cloying and claustrophobic, allowing the reader to step into this world and understand exactly what the characters are experiencing. 

Baker’s strong attention to detail helps create the layered, compelling story of cartels, inequality and murder. The action in this story packs a real punch and is certainly not for the faint-hearted. However, I found it insanely compelling. I could stomach the violence because it felt so desperately real. I cared about the characters and was totally invested in Pilar and Fuentes’s struggles. 

The female characters in this novel, on the whole, are very strong – despite their less than idea circumstances. 

I’d be very surprised if ‘City Without Stars‘ didn’t emulate its predecessor’s success. 

Vic x